In their book Make Time: How To Focus On What Matters Every Day, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky reference what they call ‘the Busy Bandwagon’. “The Busy Bandwagon is our culture of constant busyness – the overflowing inboxes, stuffed calendars, and endless to-do lists. According to the Busy Bandwagon mindset, if you want to meet the demands of the modern workplace and function in modern society, you must fill every minute with productivity.”
Tim Kreider, in his 2012 article titled The Busy Trap, laments how ‘busy’ has become a boast, and writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
I was talking to a friend recently who has been forced to work remotely – as many have – because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and he was struggling with what happens when his work for the day is done. I have been working from home for some years now. Over time, I have been able to establish a routine that takes into consideration not just work but other aspects of my life, including time for family, time for myself to just be and time to work on personal and passion projects.
I have a weekly calendar where I lay out the time I intend to devote to these different things; I also make note of what I actually do in those times. It helps me determine where to put my focus in the following week. I have also gone beyond the guilt of taking leisure time during the day, when others, who sit in offices, are still working.
This journey started when I initially left my job as editor of Destiny Man magazine in 2014 because I realised that I was so caught up in being busy, I was living a parallel life to my family. I wrote about it at that time: I Quit My Job For My Children. Also, reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week at the time helped with the decision to go out into the big-bad-world of freelancing and consulting.
Watching the world shift to working at home/remote working has been interesting. Watching people try and find their groove in abnormal circumstances, to say the least, has been both scary and enlightening, showing us all that, perhaps, the way we have structured our lives is slightly flawed. Work is important. We all need some form of gainful employment – in some guise – to ensure that we can live the lives we want to live but, when it becomes all-consuming, it can be a problem.
Now, across the globe, we are being forced to face our lives head on. What does living mean to each of us (for those of us who have the privilege of being in a place to make those types of decisions)? The hope, from my side, is that we let go of busyness.
Companies are starting to realise that, for work to get done, it isn’t about ‘bums in seats’ having been forced to allow people to work from home. For a couple of days, it even seemed like company leaders and managers were starting to realise that having people sitting in meeting after meeting sometimes gets in the way of actual working getting done. And, it also felt like people were starting to realise that being ‘busy’ with meetings, and emails, and messages, and phone calls, wasn’t actually doing work. It hasn’t been the case … fully. The embracing of digital meeting platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Team, etc has, in some instances, resulted in the transference of the physical meeting to the virtual meeting. It has become, for some, non-stop. Busyness rearing its head again.
Now is the opportunity, albeit forced, to revisit how we work, how we use our time, what work means and how it fits into our lives. But, we have to be willing to work through the discomfort and we have to be willing to drive the change. Otherwise, we will end up where we were, or even worse.
In the words of American politician, Rahm Emanuel: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
And my friend? I told him there is nothing wrong with chilling, if he has done all he can for the day. When he was in the office, those extra hours were probably spent in meetings that could have been an email. And taking time for himself should ensure that he comes at the next day’s tasks with more energy and drive. That’s my theory, at least.